Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I Don’t Believe Kanu And Odegbami

ONE of the things I have realized over the years is that footballers have a great deal more confidence in their abilities than we journalists and fans realize or give them credit for. While we fret over the prospect of a “tough opposition” or a “heavy defeat” against a more illustrous rival, the majority of footballers, particularly the talented  and accomplished ones, are usually calm and they even look forward confidently to the challenges ahead of them.

When the confident footballer wins, he’s usually not surprised as he “knew” beforehand that he could beat his opponent anyway though the fans were scared. Even when he loses, he’s not too disappointed; he simply tells himself that he will win the next time. That is why footballers are often found in night clubs, winding down with a glass of beer soon after a defeat, while their supporters (fans or fanatics!) are still brooding and unable to eat even for days thereafter.

It is such confidence in personal ability that took Nigeria’s Nwankwo Kanu (twice African Footballer of the Year, 1996 and 1999) to the top of world football even when his talent was doubted at the start partly because of his fragile stature. It is such confidence
that helped Super Eagles central defender Godfrey Oboabona to neutralize Didier Drogba at the 2013 AFCON even when most Nigerian fans and media lived in dread of the great Ivorian striker.

It is such confidence that led Eagles coach Stephen Keshi to take the risk of blooding younger players in his team, rather than stick to some “old reliables” whose absence is suddenly no longer felt in the national team.

Keshi must have wondered quietly while the majority of the fans and media feared for his emerging team. He must have wondered: “Is it not this same game of football? What’s the big deal about missing some big-name players?”

Keshi went on to win the Nations Cup without the so-called big-name players and a new Eagles has since emerged from his rebuilding programme.

I believe it is such confidence in the personal abilities of the current Eagles players that has made
Nwankwo Kanu and Chief Segun Odegbami, both former captains of the national team, to declare in recent days that Nigeria is destined for the very top under Keshi’s tutelage.

Last week, Kanu was widely reported as tipping the Eagles to shine at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil while Odegbami followed up by declaring in his column that Keshi is the best coach Nigeria ever had. The best ever?

As a journalist with no first hand experience of playing at the highest level and therefore lacking
the kind of self-confidence that Kanu and Odegbami would take to the football pitch, I may not be able  to fully appreciate why both legends have drawn their overly optimistic conclusion on Keshi and his team.

But as someone who has followed the Eagles closely for more than two decades, I am also familiar, even from the periphery, with how some things work (or don’t work) in the minds of the average Nigerian footballer.

Winning or losing for the Super Eagles has never been about their abilities alone. It has always been a factor of several other variables, including their psychological and (un)professional attitudes. I have therefore decided, based on past experience, NOT to believe what Kanu and Odegbami have said about Keshi and the Eagles until I see the concrete evidence in
the form of a World Cup ticket.

Kanu reportedly said that the Eagles will make Africa proud at next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.

Well, I say, let’s qualify first. Odegbami wrote categorically that Keshi is the best coach Nigeria
ever had. To that I say, let him qualify us for the World Cup first.

Kanu and Odegbami are demonstrating the “knowing” confidence of the great footballers that they were. My objective here is to balance that belief and confidence with some “disbelief” and circumspection so that we don’t slip into fatal over-confidence.

The quote below is a reminder of how we won the 2013 AFCON in South Africa. The fans and media may need to adopt a similar attitude. In spite of the undoubted progress that the Eagles have made under Keshi’s guidance as African champions, I will remain an “unbeliever” until I see Nigeria’s name on the roster for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The ticket is not won
until it is actually won!

“IT IS WHEN  you expect so much from the Eagles that they often disappoint. And that is why my appeal is that those of us who did not believe at the start of the tournament that the Eagles could win it should NOT start believing now. We should remain in total disbelief or, at best, sit on the fence so that our collective doubts will again propel the players to unleash their “Nigerian Spirit” in anger at being underrated. Chances are that Nigeria would not have won had we sung their praises before the match. The praise-singing seems to get them to lose focus.” – Culled from Soccertalk, February 6, 2013 following Nigeria’s shock quarter-final win over Cup favourites
Cote d’Ivoire at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. Nigeria went on to win the trophy.

Bafana vs Eagles: Shoe Get Size

NIGERIA reconfirmed her superiority over South Africa last week when the Super Eagles defeated Bafana-Bafana 2-0 in the 2013 Mandela Challenge friendly played in Durban. The Eagles were so dominant that the 2-0 result actually flattered the home team. The margin should have been wider.

By my reckoning, the match showed that the gulf in class between Nigeria and South Africa  (which made the South Africa media to nickname their own team “4-4-2”) is as wide as ever. “Four-four-two” came about when the Eagles beat Bafana 4-0, 4-0 and 2-0 in three confrontations during the 1990s. When next we need serious opposition to test the Eagles’ readiness
for an important game, I will suggest we look beyond South Africa because they are already psychologically defeated even before entering the pitch against us.

Having said that, I was quite impressed with goalkeeper Austin Ejide’s performance. The few times he was called to serious action, he demonstrated great command of his goal area with his massive size and great height. I remember that was why former Eagles coach Berti Vogts promoted him as Nigeria’s number one at the 2008 AFCON in Ghana.

Also impressive was two-goal scorer Uche Nwofor who had a great game. The manner in which he took his goals showed that he has great presence of mind in the 18-yard box. But I was not particularly impressed by Victor Obinna Nsofor who made a return to the team after a long time. It’s up to Keshi to decide whether Nsofor will get another chance. But I suspect he will
call Sola Ameobi again even though the “old horse” also didn’t shine in Durban.

The main positive from the South Africa friendly is that competition for places in the Eagles has become even keener. The days when a few players held the team to ransom are effectively over.

Club Power Rules EPL

THE 2013/2014 English Premier League season got under way last weekend with a theory being upheld that a clubside that is determined not to sell is stronger than a player that is determined to move.

Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Luiz Suarez Liverpool) and Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur) all indicated their wish to move on soon after the end of last season and have mounted all sorts of pressure to force those moves. But because their clubsides have been resolute, all three were still at their duty posts when the new season kicked off last Saturday.

The latest update is that Suarez has finally given up on quitting Merseyside while Bale is expected in action after his injury lay-off. Rooney actually played as a substitute for United in their 4-1 win away at Hull City. If the hunger and urgency he displayed in creating two of the goals is anything to go by, United must have become even more resolute not Pto sell him.

There are actually five power blocks in football. These are player power, club or administrator power, media power, coach power and fans power. The richer the clubside, the stronger they are because they can afford to spurn transfer money and keep the player they desire. This diminishes player power considerably as Rooney and company have found out.

If Spurs hold out against Real Madrid and keep Bale by September 2nd when the transfer window closes, my prediction is that they will finally edge out Arsenal in the race for the top four this season. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has failed to reinforce  his team again and, following a 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa on the opening day, he’s now desperate to spend.

Recall that it took an 8-2 bashing by United at the start of last season for Wenger to realize he needed to reinforce his team. I’m afraid he may have left it too late now, although fans’ power may force him to do some hurried deals.

So, my tips for top four this new season are Manchester City, United, Chelsea and Spurs (if they
keep Bale). I can’t make an informed prediction yet on the likely champions. But if you insist I must pick a winner, I will gamble on The Citizens!

Nigeria’s Billion Naira League

AS I was rounding off this column, news broke that Nigeria’s Globacom League Management Company (LMC) headed by Nduka Irabor had secured a landmark television rights deal worth $34million (about N5.4 Billion) from sattelite broadcasters, SuperSport. The contract is to run for four seasons (2015-2019) but SuperSport have reportedly agreed to pay part of the
sponsorship money upfront beginning from the current season.

I do not have the other details of the contract yet, so I cannot make any extensive analysis . But it
suffices to say that this is definitely the biggest deal ever struck for the Nigerian football league and it should guarantee more money for the clubsides.

I hope that club owners and club managers who were initially bent on frustrating the LMC can start seeing the benefit of having neutral managers with nonaffiliation to any clubside, run the league, while they (the club owners) are restricted to policy-making board membership only. Such arrangement promotes professionalism and good business practises from which the clubsides ultimately stand to benefit generously. That is why I supported (and still
support) retaining the LMC and making it a permanent (but tenured) feature of our league management structure.

Having said that, I want to repeat also that the LMC should not have the power to spend sponsorship or rights fees without prior approval of its budget  by the league board which is constituted by the clubsides. That way, there will be checks and balances in the system. For instance, are the clubs privy to the arrangement whereby part of the 2015-2019 sponsorship money will be spent in 2013? Is that not akin to eating your seed money even before the fruit is planted? The LMC must explain this unusual arrangement to the satisfaction of all.

For now, I congratulate the LMC and the clubsides for achieving a major breakthrough on the TV rights which apparently had been badly undersold before now.

It’s global practice to have commissioned agents brokering deals between property owners and buyers in sports. But when the agent derives greater benefits overall than the  property owner because some officials have compromised themselves, that is totally unacceptable. I hope the new SuperSport contract is a clear departure from the exploitative practices of the past. And I hope also that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) are able to draw a lesson from the LMC on how to realize greater value from its (NFF’s) commercial properties as well.

Shocker From America lI RECEIVED the following news item via  my regular AIPS Newsletter posts. AIPS is the Association of International Sports Press.

“We were bored. We wanted something to do and we decided to kill somebody.”

These were the shocking words of one of three teenagers arrested in the small town of Duncan,
Oklahoma (USA) for allegedly shooting Australian baseball player  Cristopher Lane in the back and leaving him for dead.

They were bored, so they decided to kill. Can you believe that? Absolutely shocking but true. It’s a crazy world indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Nigerian team has proved that they are best in African continent -